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Kingdom of Prussia

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This article is part of the series
Politics of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia
Prime Minister of Prussia
German General Staff
Prussian Minister of War
Foreign Minister of Prussia

The Kingdom of Prussia existed from 1701 until 1918, and from 1871 was the leading kingdom of the German Empire, comprising in its last form almost two-thirds of the area of the Empire.

In 1688, Friedrich Wilhelm I of Brandenburg, the "Great Elector", died. His possessions passed to his son Frederick III (1688-1701) who became Frederick I of Prussia (1701-1713). With the exception of Prussia proper, all of Brandenburg's lands were a part of the Holy Roman Empire, by this time under the all but hereditary nominal rule of the House of Habsburg. Since there was only one King of the Germans within the Empire, Frederick gained the assent of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (in return for alliance against France) to his adoption (January 1701) of the title of "King in Prussia", based on his non-Imperial territories. The title came into general acceptance with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713).

Sweden's defeat by Russia, Saxony, Poland, Denmark-Norway, Hanover, and Prussia in the Great Northern War (1700-1721) marked the end of significant Swedish power on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea. In the Prusso-Swedish Treaty of Stockholm (January 1720), Prussia regained Stettin (Szczecin) and other parts of Sweden's holding in Pomerania. The Hohenzollerns of Brandenburg had held the reversion to the Duchy of Pomerania since 1472. (Further Pomerania had already been annexed to Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia).

During this time, the trends set in motion by the Great Elector reached their culmination, as the Junkers, the landed aristocracy, were welded to the army which had gained so much influence in the previous fifty years.

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Invasion of Austria

In 1740, Frederick II (more commonly known as Frederick the Great) came to the throne and invaded Silesia, a province of Austria which was in turmoil after the death of the Emperor Charles VI. The invasion was the first shot of the War of the Austrian Succession (Silesia was to have passed to the rulers of Brandenburg on the extinction of its Piast dynasty according to a bilateral arrangement of 1537, subsequently vetoed by the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I). After rapidly occupying Silesia, Frederick offered to protect the new Austrian Archduchess, Maria Theresa if the province were turned over to him. The offer was rejected, but Austria faced several other opponents, and Frederick was eventually able to gain formal cession with 1742's Treaty of Berlin.

To the surprise of many, Austria managed to renew the war successfully. In 1744 Frederick invaded again to forestall reprisals and to claim, this time, the province of Bohemia. He failed, but French pressure on Austria's ally Britain led to a series of treaties and compromises, culminating in the 1748 Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that restored peace and left Prussia still in possession of Silesia.

Humiliated by the cession of Silesia, Austria worked to secure an alliance with France and Russia, while Prussia drifted into the United Kingdom's camp (the "Diplomatic Revolution"). When Frederick pre-emptively invaded Saxony and Bohemia over the course of a few months in 1756-1757, a general conflict broke out: the Seven Years' War.

Defence Against Europe's Assault

This war was a desperate struggle for the Prussians, and the fact that they managed to fight much of Europe to a draw bears witness to Frederick's military skills. Facing Austria, Russia, France and Sweden simultaneously, and with only Hanover (and the non-continental British) as notable allies, Frederick managed to prevent serious invasion until October 1760, when the Russian army briefly occupied Berlin and Königsberg. The situation became progressively grimmer, however, until the death of Russia’s Tsarina Elizabeth. The accession of the prussophile Peter III relieved the pressure on the eastern front. Sweden also exited the war at about the same time.

Defeating the Austrian army at the Battle of Burkersdorf, and relying on continuing British success against France in the war's colonial theatres, Prussia was finally able to force a status quo ante bellum on the continent. This result confirmed Prussia's major role in Germany and Europe as a whole. Frederick, appalled by the near-miss for his country, lived out his days as a much more peaceable ruler.

Expansion to Poland

Prussia continued to grow through aggression against its neighbour however. To the east and south, Poland had gradually become weakened. In 1772, Frederick took part in the first of the Partitions of Poland between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. The Kingdom of Prussia thus gained full sovereignty of Warmia and the Polish Royal Prussia, henceforth (until 1824, and again in 1878-1918) the province of West Prussia. After Frederick the Great died (in 1786), his nephew Fredrick William II continued the partitions, gaining a large part of western Poland in 1793 and a large area (including Warsaw) to the south of East Prussia in 1795, when the Polish kingdom ceased to exist.

In 1772, King Friedrich II annexed the Polish province of Prussia, except for Danzig (Gdansk), from the Kingdom of Poland, and put it under the rule the old Duchy of Prussia (it now taking the name East Prussia). In 1793, King Friedrich Wilhelm II annexed the areas around Danzig and Thorn (Torun). In 1793 and 1795, larger areas of Poland were conquered again, which were organized into the Provinces of South Prussia and New East Prussia.

The Kingdom of Prussia had resigned from the Holy Roman Empire in 1795. Königsberg was the coronation city of the Prussian kings, and the Kingdom of Prussia may be held only to have existed in the Hohenzollern lands outside of the Empire. In 1806, the Holy Roman Empire was abolished as a result of Napoleon's victories. The titles of Kurfürst (elector) became meaningless, and were dropped. Before this time, the Hohenzollern sovereign had held many titles and hats, from Head of the Evangelic Church to King, Elector, Grand Duke, Duke for the various regions and realms under his rule. After 1806, he simply was King of Prussia.

As a result of Prussia's defeat at Jena and Auerstädt, King Friedrich Wilhelm III lost all his lands west of the Elbe River; the remainder of the Kingdom was occupied by French troops. After Napoleon's defeat, however, Prussia regained most of its lost territories and considerably more, including 40% of Saxony and much of the Rhineland. Most of the Kingdom, aside from the provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, and Grand Duchy de Posen, became part of the new German Confederation, which replaced the old Reich.

Related topics

Brandenburg
Ducal Prussia
Royal Prussia
List of Kings of Prussia
Warmia
Masuria
Kaliningrad
Hohenzollern
History of Germany
Franco-Prussian War
West Prussia
East Prussia
Prussia
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